Jim (Berant Zhu) drops his girlfriend Kat (Regina Lei) at work and heads to a local café to pick up something to eat. While waiting in line, Jim witnesses an old woman sadistically slaughter the server and some of the customers before setting her sights on him. Narrowly managing to escape, Jim learns that a virus is sweeping Taiwan and once a person is infected, it allows them to act on their most sadistic thoughts. The young couple attempt to unite and escape before they, like everyone around them, become infected.
‘The Sadness’ caused quite a stir when it was screened at Arrow Video FrightFest last August and I was a bit gutted that I didn’t manage to catch it during the festival. Billed as one of the most violent films ever shown at the festival, it was with some nervousness that I sat down to watch it recently ahead of its debut on horror streaming service Shudder. It’s not that I’m scared easily, it’s more that gratuitous violence tends to put me off a film unless there’s a solid story underneath it.
Writer and director Rob Jabbaz certainly hits a nerve by setting his film in a world where a pandemic is wreaking havoc. Not unlike what the world has been through with the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘The Sadness’ depicts a society that is eager to ignore the science as they stay glued to their smartphones and refuse to actively engage in the world around them. Unlike the real-life pandemic though, Jabbaz’s fictional virus doesn’t kill people, it turns them into blood-thirsty sadists.
‘The Sadness’ starts strong. It depicts Jim and Kat in a seemingly normal world before the full horror of what’s unfolding throws everything into chaos. Jabbaz plays it smart by easing you into what turns into a very uncomfortable and unsettling watch. While Jim loses two fingers and desperately tries to find Kat, Kat is stuck on a subway train being sexually harassed by a man when the virus breaks out and causes a frenzied stabbing. It’s at that point that Jabbaz takes off the filter and what follows is actually pretty sickening.
Over the course of the film’s 99-minute run-time we witness horrendous scenes of rape, a blood-soaked orgy, a man having his crotch rammed into barbed wire and plenty of other things I simply can’t bring myself to write about in this review. I think you get the picture though. ‘The Sadness’ switches out the slow and subtle start for an all-out gorefest and honestly, for me, I thought it was a little bit too much. I’ve seen nasty (‘Hostel’ I’m looking at you) and I love a bit of gore (‘Saw’ fans put your hands up) but ‘The Sadness’ takes it way further than both and I’m not convinced it was wholly necessary.
The film features strong performances. Berant Zhu and Regina Lei are a couple you can root for and they are believable as two young people trying to understand what’s going on and why. Tzu-Chiang Wang is absolutely terrifying as the businessman who sexually harasses Kat and then goes after her and Molly (Ying-Ru Chen), a woman she’s trying to help, with the sole purpose of raping them. He’s repulsive, even before he’s infected, and turns into the film’s main antagonist.
‘The Sadness’ stumbles in its final moments as it tries to explain what is going on and why, and then leaves the viewer with a little bit of an anti-climax. I felt like after enduring 90 or so minutes of pure jaw-dropping horror, Jabbaz could have given the film a more satisfying conclusion. Stylistically ‘The Sadness’ is very good and the first half of the film had me hooked. Once it really nose-dived into sadism, I found it unwatchable at points and stomach-churning, forcing me to disengage with what was going on. I’m a huge horror fan but this might be the first film I’ve seen that I felt went a little bit too far.
Cast: Berant Zhu, Regina Lei, Ying-Ru Chen, Tzu-Chiang Wang, Wei-Hua Lan Director: Rob Jabbaz Writer: Rob Jabbaz Certificate: 18 Duration: 99 mins Released by: Shudder Release date: 12th May 2022